In a battle between two nicknamed-challenged institutions, the Marquette Golden Eagles host the St. John's Red Storm (10-8 overall, 3-4 in the Big East) on Wednesday night at the Bradley Center.
MU (15-6 overall, 5-3 in the Big East) will look to rebound from a tough loss to Pittsburgh over the weekend. The Panthers clobbered MU on the boards, but turnovers, missed free throws and the strong play of the Panthers's backcourt were the difference in crunch time.
Marquette enters the game with mounting concerns about injuries to key players. Since spraining his ankle badly in practice last week, Steve Novak has been largely ineffective, generating single digit point totals in back to back games for the first time this season. In fact, Novak has only attempted 14 shots in the last two games combined.
The Big East's premier freshman, Dominic James, suffered a sprained right shoulder in the second half against the Panthers and did not practice on Sunday or Monday. Per Rosiak at the Journal-Sentinel, the injured James is expected to play tonight after practicing on Tuesday. In addition, Jerel McNeal appeared to suffer a leg or ankle injury late in the game at Pittsburgh, but is apparently ready to play on Wednesday.
Enough of the M*A*S*H recap.....we've got hoops coming up on Wednesday night -- a game that MU desperately needs.
Here's how it unfolds: If MU holds serve at home on Wednesday night against an improving St. John's team, the Golden Eagles will roll into Villanova on Saturday playing with house money. Lose the game on Wednesday, and the Golden Eagles face the daunting task of traveling to Villanova and then to Rutgers where a sub-.500 conference record could become a real possibility.
Enough speculation. If MU is to win against the Johnnies, they'll have to stop Coach Norm Roberts' effective inside/outside combo of Daryll 'Showtime' Hill and LaMont Hamilton. Hill is an NYC playground legend and the iron man for the Johnnies. Playing more than 35mpg, the slippery Hill leads the team in scoring at nearly 13ppg. Hamilton, a fast-rising sophomore, scores better than 12ppg and hauls in more than seven boards per game.
St John's plays some of the lowest scoring basketball in the conference, leading the league in scoring defense. The stingy defense keeps the Johnnies close in most ball games, a strategy that is beginning to pay dividends. Prior to losing their last two games to West Virginia and UConn, SJU had ripped off three straight wins while holding opponents to 56 points or less.
This matchup pairs two teams with vastly different tendencies and styles of play -- methinks the pace of play could be the biggest determinant on Wednesday night, consider:
- MU is second in the Big East in field goal efficiency; SJU is second in the Big East in opponents' field goal efficiency;
- In possessions per 40 mins, MU is 4th overall in the Big East, while SJU is 14th (this stat is a measure of the pace of play that a team looks to create);
- MU is 9th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage; SJU is 2nd overall in the Big East in offensive rebounding percentage;
- In conference play, MU leads the Big East in field goal percentage, while SJU is second in the league in FG% defense;
- In conference play, MU leads the Big East in 3-point field goal percentage, while SJU is second in the league in 3-point FG% defense;
- In conference play, MU is 10th in the league in rebounding margin, while SJU is the best in the league.
Interestingly, despite the slower pace of their games, SJU is the second worse team in the league when it comes to protecting the basketball, turning the ball over 26% of the time. MU turns it over roughly 21% of the time.
This blogger thinks that the formula for MU is fairly simple: protect the basketball, get to the line and make free throws. I'll take limiting the opposition's offensive rebounds (wow, would that be nice), but ultimately if MU protects the ball good things happen. MU is talented enough to score from any number of spots on the floor -- and if the pace is quick, MU's depth could be a tremendous advantage against the thin SJU rotation.
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